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How crews are racing to save ancient sequoias in Yosemite amid explosive wildfire

More than 500 firefighters are working to stop a blaze threatening historic Mariposa Grove, which contains sequoias that have stood for thousands of years.

More than 500 firefighters are part of an intense effort to slow down a wildfire that is threatening a historic grove of sequoia trees that have stood for centuries in California's Yosemite National Park.

The Washburn Fire is burning less than half a mile from some of the majestic sequoias in Mariposa Grove, a famous area that was first dedicated for public benefit by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

A firefighter walks near the Mariposa Grove as the Washburn Fire burns in Yosemite National Park, California, on July 7. National Park Service via AP

The fire has burned more than 2,000 acres in the park in four days and now threatens trees that have stood for thousands of years. The Mariposa Grove area is home to the Grizzly Giant, a 3,000-year-old sequoia that stands more than 200 feet tall.

Fire crews are forging lines to try to contain the blaze on the ground, while park crews have set up portable sprinklers to protect the sequoias.

The sequoias are fire resistant, but climate change, rising temperatures, drought and a buildup of dry vegetation are causing the fires to burn hotter and faster than before.

"It’s really hard to sit here and see that smoke and know that it could mean the groves are threatened," Beth Pratt, the regional executive director of the California Regional Center of the National Wildlife Federation, told NBC News correspondent Miguel Almaguer on TODAY Monday.

California Wildfire
The Washburn Fire near the lower portion of the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite on July 8. Part of the park has been closed as the wildfire quintupled in size near a grove of California's famous giant sequoia trees, officials said. National Park Service via AP

The heat has grown so intense it has reportedly launched tree branches so high into the air that one nearly hit a plane working to contain the fire from above.

The blaze has also forced the evacuation of about 1,600 people from homes and hotels in the area. Crews have not been able to establish any containment of the fire yet, and temperatures are expected to rise on Monday.

California Wildfire
A helicopter drops water on the Washburn Fire burning in Yosemite on Saturday. Noah Berger / AP